Fountain of youth? Scientists pinpoint gene related to aging

There may have been a major scientific breakthrough in understanding aging, as scientists have identified a gene that plays a key role in kick-starting the process that makes cells start turning "old."

Researchers from the University of Buffalo in New York have discovered that one particular gene, CD36, triggers the beginning of the phenomenon of senescence. After it is activated, cells stop dividing and start to wither.

Senescence is a natural occurrence in the life cycle of every cell. It has long been the focus of medical research, because senescent cells are thought to contribute to a range of ailments, from heart disease and cataracts to arthritis.

 
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The new study, published in the journal Molecular Omics, found that CD36 was particularly active in older, senescent cells. The scientists were also able to cause young, healthy cells to quickly act as if they were old by increasing their CD36 activity.

“What we found was very surprising,” one of the researchers, Ekin Atilla-Gokcumen, explained. “Senescence is a very complex process, and we didn’t expect that altering expression of one gene could spark it, or cause the same effect in surrounding cells.”

The researchers did not set out to investigate CD36. Rather, they wanted to catalogue all genes related to the aging of cells. They were particularly interested in the lipid-related genes that are involved in this process, because previous studies have shown that lipids play an important role in cellular aging.

CD36 quickly emerged as a gene of interest because it repeatedly popped up in different tests designed to capture the factors that cause cell aging.

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While the discovery is exciting, the gene’s exact role in the aging process remains shrouded in mystery. Scientists know that CD36 guides the body in building a protein that sits on the surface of cells, but what exactly the protein does is still being studied. The researchers say the gene represents an exciting topic for deeper research into how cells age.

“Our research identifies CD36 as a candidate for further study. Senescence is a fundamental aspect of being a cell, but there is still a lot that we don’t know about it,” said Omer Gokcumen, one of the paper’s authors. “Senescence seems to have implications for old age and cancer, so understanding it is very important.”

World's Oldest Man Turns 113, Readies For Bar Mitzvah

Jerusalem: The world's oldest man turned 113 on Thursday and the Holocaust survivor living in Israel readied for the Bar Mitzvah he was denied a century ago, his family said.

Yisrael Kristal, an observant Jew from Zarnow in what is now Poland and currently living in the port city of Haifa, was born on September 15, 1903, three months before the Wright brothers' first successful powered airplane flight.

Guinness World Records in March recognised him as the world's oldest man.

While he turned 113 on Thursday under the Gregorian calendar, his family will celebrate the birthday at the end of September according to the Hebrew calendar, his daughter Shula Koperstoch told AFP.

The festivities will include a Bar Mitzvah that will come 100 years late.

The Bar Mitzvah is one of the most important ceremonies in the life of a Jew.

Usually marked at 13 for boys and 12 or 13 for girls -- a Bat Mitzvah in that case -- it marks the transition into someone responsible for their actions.

Kristal was unable to celebrate his Bar Mitzvah in 1916 because his mother had died three months earlier and his father was a soldier in the Russian army at the time of World War I.

"My father is religious and has prayed every morning for 100 years, but he has never had his Bar Mitzvah," his daughter said.

Around 100 family members will attend, with the date and location being kept secret to avoid Kristal having to contend with a crush of journalists, she said.

Asked about his health, Koperstoch said only: "He is ageing."

After World War I, Kristal moved to Lodz where he worked in the family confectionary factory, married and had two children.

But his life was disrupted when the Jewish quarter of the city became a ghetto under Nazi occupation during World War II and Kristal was sent to the infamous Nazi death camp Auschwitz-Birkenau.

Around 1.1 million people, most of them European Jews, perished in the camp between 1940 and 1945 before it was liberated by Soviet forces.

His wife and two children died but Kristal survived, weighing just 37 kilos (81 pounds) at the end of the war.

He then moved to Israel, where he has lived for over six decades. He re-married, had a son and opened a sweet shop.

He is four years younger than the world's oldest woman, Emma Morano, an Italian who turns 117 in November -- meaning she was born in the 19th century.

The previous oldest man, Yasutaro Koide of Japan, died in January at the age of 112.

Jeanne Louise Calment, who died in 1997, was the oldest verified person ever -- passing away in France aged 122 years and 164 days.

  • Published in World
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